Mai (Mayu Takahashi), a junior high school student, refuses to go to school. Her parents are living apart, so her distressed but sympathetic mother sends her to stay with her grandmother in... See full summary »
Mai (Mayu Takahashi), a junior high school student, refuses to go to school. Her parents are living apart, so her distressed but sympathetic mother sends her to stay with her grandmother in the country for awhile. What a change it turns out to be. Her grandmother gives Mai training as a witch (she calls herself "The Witch of the West") and also teaches Mai important values on life itself. Written by
Based on a popular children's novel by Nashiki Kaho, Nagasaki Shunichi's The Witch of the West is Dead tells the story of a young junior high school student who suddenly refuses to go to school and is sent to live with her English grandmother in the Japanese countryside. While spending the summer with her grandmother (Sachi Parker) who is called "the witch of the west" in the English translation, young Mai (Tajahashi Mayu) learns more about life than she bargained for. After only a few months in the seventh grade, Mai tells her parents that she does not want to go to school any longer. Her parents do not ask her for a reason but simply assume that she must have a good one and send her to spend the summer in the country with grandma.
It is only late in the film that we discover Mai did not want to go to school because she refused to join a clique and felt ostracized and lonely, a situation that might have been easily handled by her parents. Grandma, however, is equal to the task and Mai is very compliant, not the disturbed young girl described in the film's publicity. Granny puts young Mai to work growing vegetables and herbs, raising chickens, and making strawberry jam but her most unusual instruction is in how to become a "witch". Not taken aback by the typical attribution of witchcraft as malevolent magic, Mai is eager to learn Granny's so-called magical powers that are talked about but never shown in the film.
They are described as being able to see the future (clairvoyance), hardly the stuff of witchcraft and it never seems realistic that granny would describe herself in those terms. Sachi Parker, Shirley Maclaine's daughter who grew up in Japan, makes her Japanese debut as Mai's grandmother, but her performance is wooden and unconvincing. She is portrayed as so saintly through most of the film that she is never believable as more than a symbol and, when she shows her all too human side and slaps Mai across the face after the girl complains about her odd neighbor Kenji (Yuichi Kimora), it seems incongruous that no apology or explanation is ever offered.
The Witch of the West is Dead is eager to capitalize on the growing interest in spirituality but its spiritual advice consists of little more than admonitions to go to bed and get up early, eat well, exercise frequently, and think for yourself, something most of us learn in the second grade. Oh yes, we also learn that when we die, the soul separates from the body. While the story might have worked as a novel or perhaps as an animé film, as a full-length feature it is overlong, melodramatic, and very predictable, a sharp contrast to a recent similar-themed Korean film, The Way Home, whose world pulsated with rich and believable characters.
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